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WOMEN'S ISSUE Leadership Lean In Circle

Reading Culture

On the joys of reading: a treasure trove of memories


Sarah Waiswa's Stranger in a familiar land


Road to Addis

Today we are going to learn to cut and paste kids! Today we are going to learn to cut and paste, kids!

editorial | translation | publishing | printing

We know that a comma can save a life.


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Reading culture On the joys of reading: a treasure trove of memories


Women in Leadership


Sarah Waiswa


Book review




The diary of a budding writer



Celebrating Rural African Women

Road to Addis

Adieu January

The Tree of Secrets



MANAGING DIRECTOR R. Mumbi Gichuhi OPERATIONS MANAGER Mary Wagura EDITOR Mark Muthiora LEAD CREATIVE Patrick Waswani ACCOUNTANT Joyce Mbugu SALES MANAGER Eric Magira EPSILON PUBLISHERS Gemina Court George Padmore Road Kilimani, Nairobi P.O. Box 1175-00606 Nairobi Kenya Tel +254 (0) 733 333 600 publish@epsilon.co.ke www.epsilon.co.ke

@publisherkenya facebook.com/epsilonpublishers Epsilon Publishers

Prose is published six times a year by Epsilon Publishers. The opinions expressed therein are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Epsilon Publishers. Š 2017 Epsilon Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission from the publisher.

Epsilon Publishers is proud of its commitment in embodying the spirit of the United Nations Global Compact whose fundamental pillars are to their strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. To this end, Epsilon Publishers has signed the letter of commitment to the United Nations Global Compact, pledging to align its efforts to operate responsibly and to advance societal goals in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.





Of leaning in, celebrating women in leadership, paying homage to rural women and strangers in a familiar land.


s we commemorate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, we present you a commemorative edition of Prose, dubbed Women’s Issue to mark this auspicious day. This day has been observed since the turn of the 20th century and is aimed at celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political milestones of women. It also calls to action for accelerating gender parity. There is a famous proverb, if you want to walk fast, walk alone; if you want to walk far, walk with others. In the last 13 months or so, I have had the singular privilege of walking with a group of such women in a circle called Lean In. Lean In Circles are based on Sheryl Sandberg’s international bestseller Lean In, a book that both encourages and dares women to ascend to the full potential of their capabilities. There are several Lean

In Chapters around the world and our Lean In Circle was formed by our courageous Patricia Murugami. In this issue of Prose, we feature the ladies who form this group. They are drawn from diverse careers and industries and they share with us insightful nuggets that they have gleaned along the way. While a lot has been said about advancing women representation in the workplace, much less is done of celebrating another group of women, whose contribution to the society is also noble; the rural women. Our book review, Celebrating African Rural Women, is an excellent exposition of how rural women in African societies play a pivotal role in, inter alia, educating children, taking care of the communities, preserving culture, and perhaps most importantly, preserving indigenous seed that almost faces extinction, if one can call it such. Published in 2016 by the

African Biodiversity Network (Kenya) and the Gaia Foundation (Ethiopia), we get more than a glimpse of the contribution these women make. Still on matters women, this month we feature Sarah Waiswa, a Ugandan born, Kenyan bred photographer. Sarah’s interview is poignant and succinct and her photos articulate more than words could ever say. She shares with us one of her projects “Stranger in a Familiar Land”, which, in her words, “looks at the persecution of albinos in sub-Saharan Africa”. Meanwhile, our budding writer continues to explore his talent. This time, he takes to complaining about January (or colloquially njaanuary), and its hangovers thereof. The year is still young. It is still not too late to wish you a happy and prosperous 2017.



cenosillicaphobia (n.) The fear of an empty glass

A little bit of trivia Mind your language Complement vs compliment A complement is a thing that completes or improves something while a compliment is a flattering remark or a polite expression of praise or admiration.

Famous quotes

Mad as a hatter

The expression ‘mad as a hatter’ to denote someone who is crazy has its origins in the hat making industry. In the 17th and 18th century in Europe, compounds containing mercury were used to convert the fur of small animals such as rabbits into felt for hats. Prolonged exposure to mercury from these compounds caused hat makers to develop a variety of physical and mental ailments, including tremors, speech problems, and hallucinations and which were equated to madness.

DOLLY PARTON If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader. - Singer-Songwriter



COCO CHANEL “Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” - Fashion icon (1883-1971)

Agelast Someone who never laughs Mondegreen A misunderstood or misinterpreted word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of the lyrics of a song

GRACE OGOT “When you're frightened don't sit still, keep on doing something. The act of doing will give your back your courage.” - Kenyan author, nurse, journalist, politician and diplomat (1930-2015)

C-Sectioned Consistency

(n) steadfast adherence to the same principles, course or form; uniformity.

Reading for the soul Pay attention and engage fully with what you are reading. Skim over the book to get an overview. Read in small bites, more so, if the material is complex. Make notes on ideas, themes manifest in the book. Stretch after every thirty minutes so as to not lose focus. Read words in groups or phrases rather than as single words for easier understanding.


n a nutshell, consistency equates to uniformity. It is the ability to deliver the same quality in regards to a product, service or customer experience each time. In an organisation, consistency reassures the customer that they can rely on the organisation to ‘come through’ in terms of delivering quality products or services even when the organisation is working with thin profit margins and tight deadlines.

To achieve consistency, organisations need to harmonise all their internal and external processes and objectives. A starting point would be to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all the activities the organisation is involved in to streamline the activities and ensure uniformity. These SOPs can be reinforced by checklists and other tools for improving processes such as Six Sigma.


Pronunciation (mow-fay-a) Mubea is the Kikuyu name for a Catholic priest or father. The name is a corruption of ‘mon père’, French for father. French is the official language of the Holy Ghost Fathers. They were the first Catholic missionaries in Kenya. They established the first inland church at St. Austin in Nairobi and from where they penetrated into neighbouring districts.


Sotik is a Kenyan town located in the Rift Valley highlands. The agricultural town got its name from colonial settlers who used to say that ‘the fog is so thick’ as the area could at times experience blinding fog. The locals misheard that as ‘Sotik’ and the name stuck. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017



Strength There is strength in a heart docile For patience builds a home Love, humility and perseverance Is the foundation strong. There is strength in laughter Even when things are topsy-turvy In ill-health and wellness Is a glimmer of hope. There is strength in children Their bearing, their bringing up For this is no mean a task These joyous little wonders. There is strength in balance A career fruitful and fulfilling Serenity on the home front In womanhood is purpose.

The sojourner’s call Some were meant to be wanderers Possessed of curious minds, restless bodies Drawn to savour the world and its offerings Loving for a moment, then gone. Some were meant to be sojourners Seekers of truth and destiny Chaste of heart, pure of spirit Speakers of ill-will against none. Some were meant to be vagabonds Pursuing not glory, fame nor wealth Unencumbered by human concerns Freedom, their clarion call. For in every of us is the sojourner’s call To travel the world or gaze at love For soon, these two are parted And we are beholden to wisely choose.







“If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed.” – Mark Twain “‘KARAOKE MACHINE

BACKS OUT OF PERFORMING AT INAUGURATION’, the headline screams. The article continues, ‘ WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)— Donald J. Trump’s plans for a triumphal inauguration were upended over the weekend when a karaoke machine that had been engaged to perform at the event abruptly backed out…” This is an excerpt from Andy Borowitz’s satire column for the New Yorker. That said, with the proliferation of fake news online, it pays to really evaluate what one’s reads. Many articles, with outrageous headlines such as this one or peddling ‘believable’ news lurk in the wide world that is the web. The proliferation of fake news is a big concern, more so, with the recent US elections that saw Donald Trump elected to the highest office and which fake news is alleged to have tipped the balance in his favour. Consequently,

Google and Facebook intend to enhance that publishers of fake news do not benefit from their advertising platforms. Of course, fake or absurd claims and news are not only confined to online platforms. They also find their way to print in the form of newspaper or book hoaxes. These includes Forbes FYI reportage of November 1991 that the Russian government was selling Lenin’s embalmed body to raise foreign currency and Margaret B. Jones’ Love and Consequences – a memoir about a disadvantaged black-native American child that later turned out to be a fraud. However, apart from the elaborate hoax, the discerning reader can tell the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. If curating news online, a good place to start will be from reputable news sites. These includes online websites of reputable media houses, whether local or international.

Such media houses employ a variety of professionals- journalists, editors, experts on chosen fields- to ensure their content meets a certain threshold, more so, in terms of quality and veracity. That said, though, the discerning reader has to establish that he indeed is visiting the actual websites of these reputable news outlets as impostors are known to clone lookalike sites with which to peddle their propaganda. Another good practice is for the discerning reader to engage intellectually with what he is reading. Such engagement means that the reader keeps an open-mind and is prone to counter the arguments raised in a particular book or the ideas advanced in a particular article. Ultimately, the goal of reading is to expand one’s mind without necessarily having to accept everything one’s read as the gospel truth.





On the joys of reading: a treasure trove of memories

"I get afraid, very afraid, when somebody, anybody, prescribes to me which books to read and not to read. When somebody gives me a template of what African literature ought to look like. And boy! You can imagine the shock I got when I read an article on okayafrica.com written by the gifted Siyanda Mohutsiwa, in which she gave a prescription for African literature, authenticating some forms and denouncing another…” 12



’m over it: Immigrant Literature. I don’t know when it happened. It might have been somewhere in the middle of Teju Cole’s Open City, as I followed his protagonist around the streets of New York. Or maybe it was at the end of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, when I boarded the flight to America with its precocious star. Or perhaps it was a few weeks after finishing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and I had finally begun to forget the stress carried by illegal African immigrants in Europe…” Siyanda Mohutsiwa argues elegantly in her piece, ‘I’m Done With African Immigrant Literature.’ And so too does Shadreck Chikoti in his counterargument piece titled ‘I Am Not Done with African Immigrant Literature’. Sample this: “I get afraid, very afraid, when somebody, anybody, prescribes to me which books to read and not to read. When somebody gives me a template of what African literature ought to look like. And boy! You can imagine the shock I got when I read an article on okayafrica.com written by the gifted Siyanda Mohutsiwa, in which she gave a prescription for African literature, authenticating some forms and denouncing another…” Both pieces are articulate. Siyonda contends that African writing is that which is written by Africans, living in African, for Africans and which is set in Africa. On the other hand, Chikuti’s views are that literature is literature and the writer is an artist, first and last. The fact that the writer happens to be African is accidental. I weigh in as a reader. ‘Let there be peace’, is my clarion call, ‘and get people reading.’ Let me elaborate. I grew up in books, literally, surrounded by tens, if not hundreds, of books. My dad was an avid reader and had quite a collection of books that covered all sorts of subjects. I read about Indians in America, the names of various capital cities and currencies from around the world, inventors and inventions… Most of all, I enjoyed his ‘mafia’ books, The Godson by Gloria Basile, The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano by a Martin A. Gosch (the novel acquainted me with a rather strong repository of curse words at a rather tender age), a novel on Jimmy Hoffa, his Teamsters and a possible mafia connection that may have led to his disappearance… From his collection, I got a glimpse of the recluse billionaire Howard Hughes and the controversial billionaire that was Adnan Khashoggi among others. From my sister, a bit of Mills and Boon, which I found rather boring, being into action, adventure and fantasy in that order. Well, as if reading my mind, she came through with The Magic Bicycle by John Bibee about a boy with a bicycle that could fly. Plus the sum total of a whole

range of vocabulary that was the ‘alfalfa’ (which I read as alfa-alfa for so very long until in a high school’s agriculture class when I learnt that it was cattle feed). From her friends, I read a lot of Wilbur Smith, Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon. Life was good. From my brother, I read a whole lot of The Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton’s Tales of Brave Adventure, a slurry of adult themed comic books which shouldn’t have been in his possession to begin with… then again, our parents were too busy to supervise or censor what we read; a conundrum that presently manifests itself as parents who are too busy to supervise their children’s online activities… From my friends, a whole set of comics and series: Archie, Tintin, Asterix, Beano… the Goosebumps, Pacesetters, the African Writers Series… John Kiriamiti’s My Life in Crime, Emmanuel Eni’s Delivered from the Powers of Darkness, Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson, a few philosophical titles which I found to be rather tedious… Which friends we discovered the national library with and greatly expanded our imaginations. The library then became our Saturday hang-out, with the pretence that it was a conducive place to do our homework and which was solace enough for our parents to give us a weekly stipend. Then I went to high school and reading became a drag. Or rather, it could have been had I not found a love for reading much earlier. We had the same teacher tutoring English for the duration of our high school stay. Whereas my own reading was enjoyable, done at leisure and in my own terms, she terrorised our reading and comprehension sessions that we had a running joke that were English to be an optional subject come Form Three, we would have ‘dropped’ it unceremoniously. And fast. Anyway, come Form Three and we started doing ‘literature’ as a semi-autonomous subject. Set books, we called them, the recommended (with no recourse but to read them despite the word ‘recommended’ implying choice as to whether to engage with the books or not) literature from the Ministry of Education. Encounters from Africa- a most political short story anthology that stirred rebellion in some of us, Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People (which the Catholic Church lobbied to have removed from the syllabus on account of it contaminating our young and impressionable minds in that Irresponsible stained Unbreakable, in rather lurid description; again, our parents’ voice was conspicuously absent), Francis Imbuga’s Aminata… these were our English literature selections. For Swahili, we did Walenisi by Prof. Katama Mkangi and Prof. Mazrui’s Kilio Cha Haki, among others.

Whereas our Swahili teacher doubled as both the language and literature tutor for the subject, we acquired an English literature teacher in Form Three. These three teachers were a study in contrast. Juxtaposed – one of those literary devices we learned in due course- the English language teacher was a terror, the Swahili teacher oscillated between passable for language and proficient in literature, while we felt that the literature teacher was wasting her talent and should have been lecturing at the university. She was that good. Be it a poem, a short story or other variants of literature, she breathed life in whatever she taught. Do you see dragons in your poetry? Justify your answer. She did not restrain our imagination whereas the English teacher would have snapped at us to stop being silly. You should have seen us scrambling to recite poetry or read excerpts from the set books. In short, we started scoring higher marks in literature than in language. We were lucky, we found out, when we compared notes with students from other schools. This would be outside the Kenya Cinema, our rendezvous before the advent of mobile phones. Said some, they would never read a novel or play again once through with the final exams. An attitude carried on to college; that once through with one’s course, they would never read a book again. Ever. Still, we readers found one another out. The Harry Potter books passed from one pair of eager hands to another, we competed to have our schools featured in the Insyder magazine, we marvelled at the audacity of Kwani? as it featured a whole story in sheng, plus its unconventional narrations, when its first edition came out… Now, the internet has come of age and smartphones are a staple. It is my contention that slowly, people are discovering the joys of reading. Unlike traditional media, the internet curates its stories from everyone, hence it has a multitude of content, formats to disseminate the content, different forms of presenting the content… Whether an irreverent Michael Jordan’s meme, Wanja Kavengi’s veryrelatable tales, a hekaya from KenyaTalk that is a mish and mash of sheng, English and bad grammar, but is nevertheless a joy to read, or an elegant piece from the New Yorker, the internet is getting everyone to read. And what is more- it is catering to everyone’s sensibilities and budget- from the sophisticated reader down to the boy wa mtaani- the man on the street. Which is a point most of those tasked to guide us in our discovery phase on matters reading missed. That reading needs to be a pleasurable activity, as per one’s preferences and pace.


Leaning In #beboldforchange


nternational Women’s Day, commemorated on March 8 annually, celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. The theme for this year is #BeBoldForChange and calls for a more gender inclusive world. Since its inception a little more than 100 years ago, the equality debate rages on, and there is no sign of it dying down anytime soon. The World Economic Gender Gap Report shows that women work longer hours than men, having roughly 4 and a half hours unpaid work in a typical working day as opposed to men’s 1 and a half hours in the same day. Yet it is said that is shall take 118 years before equal pay can be achieved1. Having said that, women have come a long way in terms of empowerment- women’s suffrage, educational and employment opportunities. However, a lot remains to be done, especially in terms of shattering the belief systems and myths that seem to ensnare and shackle womenfolk. Gender stereotyping remains the chief culprit. Whether done consciously or not, children pick up gender cues from a very tender age; boys’ games are rough in true police-and-robbers fashion, and girls’ games, for example, revolve around care-giving roles. These stereotypes sit somewhere in the subconscious mind and seem to be temporarily suspended as they (girls) are encouraged to study hard to achieve academic success. In the last few years around the world, girls seem to be excelling more academically than boys2. The recent Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE) results are testimony to this. 50,000 girls qualified to join university as opposed to 38,000 boys3. These girls then graduate and enter the job market in entry or mid-management positions. 1. 2. 3. 4.

All seems to be going fine and dandy. Women continue to rise in their careers until the stereotype myth rears its ugly head again. A position of leadership opens up in the company. This is where women need to choose. Between settling into a long term commitment as marriage and stepping into a role of leadership. Between taking on bigger responsibilities and taking care of their families. Between moving towns, or even countries to sit at the helm of an organisation or staying at home in the familiar comfort of their nuclear and extended families. We begin to see fewer and fewer women at the top. Those who forge ahead and are not married or are not in a long term commitment are prophesied about by gloom dispensers. They will die alone in the company of their six cats. Those who are married and choose to step into a leadership role have their prophecy too. They are cold and indifferent. So the question begs, can a woman have the best of both worlds? Yes, she can. But only if she gives herself the permission to do so. The belief system that needs to be shattered is internal. Only she can change her thinking around the myth of the role that she is supposed to play. This is the premise on which Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In is based. Following the wild success of the book, Lean In, a not for profit organisation was formed. In the same space, Lean In Circles were also formed. They are small groups that meet regularly to learn and to grow together4. In the next few pages, we feature the women who form the Lean In Circle in Kenya.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/18/women-will-get-equal-pay-in-118-years-wef-gender-parity (last accessed 31.01.2017) https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/02/7-myth-busting-reasons-we-should-be-investing-in-women (last accessed 31.01.2017) http://www.nation.co.ke/news/education/Hard-questions-raised-by-KCSE-results/2643604-3509564-format-xhtml-srwxjgz/ index.html (last accessed 09.02.2017) https://leanin.org/together/women?_ga=1.145502903.243352838.1486394790 (last accessed 31.01.2017) PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017




Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography







How do you define success?

Success means having the courage to redefine the very meaning of “success” itself by recalibrating what the world teaches us success to be. CURRENTLY READING

In my view, success means having the courage to redefine the very meaning of “success” itself by recalibrating what the world teaches us success to be. Success is peddled as having an abundance of material possessions. To be successful means to live with detachment from what one owns, however little or much that it may be, because it is not what defines who one is. To be successful is to be sure of oneself. To be successful is to be deliberate about aligning one’s time and energy to one’s values. Success is living authentically.

How can women leaders nurture, mentor or support fellow women to be leaders? The cornerstone to mentoring and to nurturing is providing a safe platform for the person being mentored. There is a false notion that to mentor is to speak from an ivory tower to one’s “subject”. This is not mentoring. This is patronising. There is a reason for this sort of outlook. From the time little girls can walk and talk, and I can safely say that I speak for the majority, they are taught that they need to be “strong”. Strong in this context means having pacts of silence with oneself. It is the denial of and the refusal to acknowledge and to honour one’s inner environment. On one end of the spectrum, being “strong” means remaining tight lipped about one’s challenges, tribulations, heartache and grief. On the other end of the spectrum, it means being silent in the face of ongoing or past abuse, in whatever shape or form that it may take or it may have taken. To provide mentorship is a privilege. It is to allow the mentee to give herself the consent as it were, to be

human; to validate and to honour her experiences. A mentor cannot grant permission to another for what she has not given herself the permission to be. This is because it is through acceptance and validation of one’s self that one can grow. Growth, and by extension, ascent to maturity means showing up as one’s authentic self. It means leaving by the wayside any masks that have hitherto been worn. To mentor is to provide a road map, rather than spoon-feed solutions. This is because each one of us ought to chart our own growth path through our own lens and our own intrinsic understanding of growth. Growth occurs in a context of responsible freedom. The most integrated approach to mentoring that I have come across so far is from my own peer mentor Patricia Murugami who has developed a growth formula for her doctoral thesis. She describes it thus: G=RH4. This means that growth occurs by raising one’s heart, one’s head, one’s hand for a higher purpose. This provides each one of us, not just women, with a robust starting block to lifelong growth. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017


Photo: Andrew Mwaura Photography





Success for me, is to find out that which we were put in this world for, and accomplish it fully, not only creating wealth, but by inspiring and impacting others positively as we do so.

How do you define success?

Each one of us has a purpose for which we say is our reason for being here. And it is up to us to live this potential to the full. Success for me, is to find out that which we were put in this world for, and accomplish it fully, not only creating wealth, but inspiring and impacting others positively as we do so, and to eventually die empty, by being- so to speak- totally used up.


How can women at the board level influence the corporate culture in an organisation?

The board plays a central role in fundamental aspects of the organisation like the strategy of the company and high level discussions on improvement of the performance of the company, and culture changes are necessary to execute these strategies. It has been shown that gender influences leadership styles, and leadership styles impact the culture of the organisation. Women in Boards can indirectly influence corporate culture through policies they approve that influence how women employees, for example, are treated in the office, since previous organisations had certain roles especially in management set up with a male manager in mind hence no need for crèches, flexi hours after maternity leave and the like. Further, via senior level recruitment and encouraging women into senior management positions; of course, according to merit. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017


Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

Success comes from giving what I am doing my best shot, anchored in my core values – integrity, compassion, respect, humility, faith – coupled with a great sense of adventure and unquenchable curiosity. CURRENTLY READING

My definition of success is inspired by one of my favourite authors, Maya Angelou. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” I believe success comes from giving what I am doing my best shot, anchored in my core values – integrity, compassion, respect, humility, faith – coupled with a great sense of adventure and unquenchable curiosity.

How can practices such as female genital mutilation, early marriages and teen pregnancies that curb the advancement of women and the girlchild be eradicated? Practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), and early child marriages are so entrenched in culture, in traditions, in religion… and they are sensitive. Can they be eradicated? The optimist in me would like to believe that YES, WE CAN! But, it will take more than one generation to do it, maybe more. We need to have these conversations, starting with our own grandmothers, and aunts, and mothers, with utmost sensitivity and respect. We have to build understanding, change knowledge and perceptions and shift the belief that FGM and early child marriages are good/normal/acceptable practices. Their negative impact on the wellbeing of our girls is well documented and it’s a sad story more often than not. I am yet to hear a positive heart-warming story from a child who has undergone FGM or been married off at the tender age of 10 or 12. There is a disconnect at the moment, when we

spend years empowering the girlchild and fighting for her rights, while at the same time we let her be disempowered through FGM and/or early marriage; it must be really confusing to her. She must wonder what all that education and rhetoric about girls are as good as boys meant in the first place, when she undergoes FGM or is married off before she is 18 years old. How can we change this and be consistent in our message to both girls and boys? We need to have more champions from all walks of life, from the ‘mama mboga’ around the corner, to the cleric at the pulpit challenging these ‘norms’ and prescribing alternative rites of passage. Similarly, teen pregnancies are a reality that we must address – are we having the same conversations with our daughters as we are with our sons? I don’t think so – we have the conversation with our teenage girls, but forget to have the same conversation with our sons.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





Success is setting out to do something where you either meet your goal or you fail spectacularly but the lesson learnt is more meaningful than the goal.

How do you define success?

Success is setting out to do something and you have one of two outcomes. (a) You meet your goal/ objective either in the way you planned or through God’s interceding hand and have a deep sense of satisfaction when you look at the final product; or, (b) You fail spectacularly at getting what you were aiming for – but the lesson learnt is more meaningful than the goal itself. Then you have been successful in growing.


What is your view on life/work integration as far as women leadership is concerned? I think it is a very tough balancing act in today’s professional world for women in leadership to strike the right balance in work/life integration. On one hand, we are trying to break the glass ceiling and on the other hand, we are trying to be present for our family/ friends and have some semblance of a social life. I don’t think there is a formula that can work for everyone. I do feel that every woman needs to first find time for self-care (you can’t give from an empty bucket), and then work on prioritising life elements and work elements in order of what is important at this particular point in your life (for instance, when children are younger and you are forming bonds, you may want to give a little more time to family). Bottom line is that you can’t have all the time to do everything, but you can work time to do everything you really need – as long as you have made it clear to yourself what your needs are.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

Success takes many forms for me. It involves embracing and learning that losing a few battles can help me win the war. It means overcoming my fears and forging forward despite disappointments along the way as well as learning new things/skills. It means loving what I do and doing it to the best of my ability and thereafter celebrating the milestones in my life no matter how small.

Success takes many forms for me. It means, for example, loving what I do and doing it to the best of my ability and thereafter, celebrating the milestones in my life no matter how small. CURRENTLY READING

What do women need to do to really advance in their careers, say, by becoming partners or joining the company’s board at the executive level?

Women need to let others know what they want/their ambitions. If it is a boardroom appointment, this should be communicated to someone who can sponsor that appointment based on my capabilities. There is need to be good at what we do. Be true to yourself and undertake a self-evaluation on your skill sets so that you can know your skills gap and address them systematically. When one is really good at her work she will stand out and get the eye of people who are ready and willing to mentor her and sponsor her. Women should ensure that they are building the right networks at work and social wise; networks which can help you elevate your profession, develop a skill set- networks which speak to your values and which will give you a platform to be seen and to be heard. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017


Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

I define success by the ability to achieve set objectives as a result of working with a team of people who are passionately committed to its accomplishment. Success for me is also the ability to help others achieve their goals by giving them the support and guidance they would need.

I define success by the ability to achieve set objectives as a result of working with a team of people who are passionately committed to its accomplishment. CURRENTLY READING

How has reading impacted your growth as an individual and as a leader? As an individual, reading has helped me along the path of personal growth. The experiences shared in a book have helped me look at a situation I have gone through or I am going through in a different light. Reading has also helped me deepen my self awareness, an ingredient that I find crucial for personal growth. It has also helped me to acknowledge God's enormous help in getting me to where I am in life. Through reading, I have also learned about possible leadership challenges I could face in the future and how I could potentially resolve those issues and/or avoid such pitfalls. I am still working on my reading culture as I learn from others that "reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life." (Joseph Addison)



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography






How do you define success?

Purpose defines success. It is the primal reference point for any investment of time and energy. It is the value of thinking about the “why?”

Purpose defines success. It is the primal reference point for any investment of time and energy. CURRENTLY READING

How does one’s health tie to one’s leadership capabilities? Health is Power. In each of the three lifestyle categories: relational, financial, and physical; topics such as diet and exercise, disease prevention, stress management, relationship intimacy, and investment and retirement planning strategies are crucial. Executives and leaders in every industry are improving their personal and professional lives, and those of their employees by finding optimal health and work/life integration. A leader’s physical health controls her mental success. As such, it is important that conditions in the workplace are optimal to enable this and that a leader’s performance is acknowledged. A leader’s health influences her leadership, the quality of her work and the quality of her relationship with colleagues. This also impacts on the leader’s emotional intelligence and relationships and which are tied to workplace performance and are outcomes of her leadership’s effectiveness.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success? Success is sometimes measured with respect to the position one holds in the society or professionally or the amount of money one has or with the material things one has amassed. This is because we live in a success driven society that measures us by who we are, what we have and how we look. I have often meditated on this question and more so over the last few years when my health was poor. I have concluded that success for me is not who I am or the position I hold, rather, I would be successful if: I have made a real difference in my students’ future; If I have impacted on my friends positively; If I have mentored young women and saw them being successful. However, if I was successful in all these areas and I was not successful as a wife and mother, I would consider myself as having failed. Being a successful wife means supporting my husband. Being a successful mother is defined by the fact that my

four children will be successful individuals. This means that they will have an active spiritual life and that they will be good children, will be self-reliant, will be responsible citizens, will be responsible professionals, and will be good parents.

Success for me is not who I am or the position I hold, rather, I would be successful if: I have made a real difference in my students’ future; If I have impacted on my friends positively. CURRENTLY READING

What is your take on women in the sciences?

Women can contribute greatly to science. Firstly, these women have overcome a great deal by making it in science. They have overcome the stereotypical mentality that mathematics is difficult, or that science or physics can only be done well by boys. That in itself is a great achievement. When these women then take up roles in the science disciplines they do a lot for the women who are behind them. They are a great example to a whole generation of women who see what they have done and become inspired. They also impact the men around them who are brothers and who will one day be husbands and fathers and who then encourage the young girls

who are their sisters, wives or children. Women should be encouraged to take up science jobs, and embrace their femininity while at it. This means that if they need to wear work gear they do so, but opt or request that it be custom made to fit them well. I would, therefore, discourage them from wearing overalls made for men but rather, would encourage them to get fitted for overalls that fit them well. While this is important to me (women in sciences embracing their femininity), it is not as important as a woman doing the job well, finishing it well and doing it her way. I think this woman, if she embraced her feminine side, would be able to do the job well without mimicking men and probably becoming a lioness in the workplace. She should just be herself and endeavour to do her work well. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017


Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography






How do you define success?

Success is detecting, finding and living with the aim to fulfil one’s God given vocation fully across all facets of one’s life. Some people call it vocation, purpose, true North or God’s North. It is that unique reason for each person’s existence. When someone finds their vocation, it impacts profoundly on their personal and professional space and impact. Success is a journey, not a destination. A journey towards becoming who you were created to be. I would like to quote from an inspiring poem -What is Success? by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the meaning of living a successful life. "To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded".

Broadly speaking, is there a difference between men’s style of leadership and women’s style of leadership, or does it come down to individual style?

There are critical differences in men’s and women’s style of leadership due to their genetic makeup. From the brain to hormone types and hormonal levels, the style of leadership is defined in a unique manner in both genders. When we add the impact of factors such as individual traits, family, socialisation and cultural factors, the styles of leadership are further affected. By the mere (actually, not so mere) fact that women have a womb, they are naturally designed to be life givers. By life giving, I mean more than the literal sense of being blessed with children (giving birth to children which is one of the most profound experiences a woman can pass through). Life giving in the broader sense of the word describes seeking to ensure their work has a deeper meaning due to the potential impact their leadership results can have on others.

Success is detecting, finding and living with the aim to fulfil one’s God given vocation fully across all facets of one’s life. Some people call it vocation, purpose, true North or God’s North. It is that unique reason for each person's existence. CURRENTLY READING

Consequently, the authentic feminine leadership style aims to nurture, collaborate, has a long range view, seeks to integrate work and life and achieve a win-win outcome. Female leadership will usually be motivated by the need to belong and to enable others to grow. Male leadership style tends to be more command and control, competitive, focused on short range results and compartmentalised due to how their brains are wired to effectively work. Both gender based styles are complementary and when applied, a male or female leader may consider aiming to use a broad range of the competencies that are found in both types of leadership styles.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

To me, success is living a life that I am proud of and leaving behind a legacy when I transit from this world. This revolves around my relationship with God, family and community in the following ways; Discovering Gods purpose for me and living according to this purpose; Having a functional and a loving family where each member can achieve their potential; Ensuring that our common inheritance (environment) is used sustainably for the benefit of present and future generations.

How can women, as business leaders, influence the corporate world to sustainably use the resources at their disposal? Women suffer the most from environment related calamities such as droughts, floods and famine due to their duty as caregivers. Thus, women who are business leaders should always remember this and strive

to ensure sustainable business practices are adhered to. Women as business leaders need to understand the importance of using resources sustainably and pass the message to the C-Suite to ensure support from top management. The purpose is to create a mind shift where corporates embrace the triple bottom line – the people, profit and planet. They should take the lead in identifying and prioritising key environmental issues within the business so as to invest appropriate time and effort in dealing with identified issues. Women leaders have a role to ensure company policies support sustainability and this should also be very clear in the business strategy. They should push this further by allocating a sustainability budget and specific staff to implement best practices and continually reviewing performance in relation to sustainability. This ensures that women as business leaders influence the environmental footprints of the businesses they lead.

To me, success is living a life that I am proud of and leaving behind a legacy when I transit from this world. This revolves around my relationship with God, family and community. CURRENTLY READING



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





Success is how you define it as an individual. It is personal. For me, it is all about having a good relationship with my family, enjoying my daily work and having fun while at it.

How do you define success?

Success is how you define it as an individual. It is personal. For me, it is all about having a good relationship with my family, enjoying my daily work and having fun while at it.


How can women who are high achievers but who are held back by the imposter syndrome free themselves from this shackle?

Women feel like frauds because they are unable to internalise their successes. It is important to recognise that the feeling exists in you and that everyone feels it at some point in their professional life. It's healthy to question your own qualifications and take pause, but then you need to find a way to move forward and regain your confidence. To free themselves, women could start by rewarding themselves for their hard work, track and measure their successes as well as let go of their inner perfectionist.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography



How do you define success?

Success is the achievement of all my set targets in the spiritual, physical, emotional, financial and relationship areas of my life, all ordained to a higher purpose of serving God and others in whatever circumstances I find myself in.

With regard to the 2016 KSCE exams where a significant number of girls (50,000) qualified to join university as compared to boys (38,000), what does this portend for the country’s future? Do you think that the boychild has been forgotten?

This trend, if sustained, portends that in future women will outnumber men in senior positions in the corporate world.

It also portends that more women could in future become the main breadwinners in families, which will call for a cultural shift in thinking where traditionally the man was always the (main) breadwinner, and the resolution of the consequent question as to who wears the trousers in the home in the case of a married couple. I think it also portends more women-friendly policies in the work place. Boys could also start feeling inferior and disenfranchised, therefore reducing the confidence of the boychild to compete with the girlchild. Yes, I think that in the effort to empower the girlchild, the boychild has been forgotten and this needs to be addressed in order to bring up boys who grow into men of character who can take responsibility for their actions and are able to lead their families spiritually, financially and socially.

Success is the achievement of all my set targets in the spiritual, physical, emotional, financial and relationship areas of my life. CURRENTLY READING



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

Success is fulfilling that authentic purpose to make a difference here on earth in what we do. CURRENTLY READING

My definition of success is fulfilling that authentic purpose to make a difference here on earth in what we do. It is not based on making money. In other words, it is your ‘why’ that matters more than your ‘what’.

Do women leaders have to work twice as hard as men leaders to be noticed and rewarded?

Yes, the women leaders have to work twice as hard as the male leaders. Let me relate this to my leadership journey; a journey started during employment when my main role involved my contribution to an organisation’s bottom line. This was as stressful as it sounds but I was prepared to do it, and I gave it my all. As any corporate does, it had its challenges, especially for women; it is indeed true that women have to work twice as hard as their male colleagues to stay relevant and maintain respect. This, however, did not go as well as I would have wished, so I jumped headfirst into the entrepreneurial world, because I still needed to fulfil what I believe is my purpose. The biggest lesson I have learnt, in fact, revolves around knowledge of your purpose and working towards it. Of course, it was not an easy decision to leave the security of employment but I had to dust myself off

and keep moving, start up this business and deliver. As I would say, “It’s not how you fall that matters but how you pick yourself after you have fallen.” Running a business as a business entrepreneur means three things: one, tightening your safety belt and facing what the world will inevitably dole out to you, with determination and patience. Two, it calls for a strict juggle on your work-life balance, and three, discipline to see the ambition through. But it is possible, and I would encourage others to take the leap of faith, because it is, in one word, satisfying.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

I think success is when you spend your day achieving your purpose and touching lives through your greatest gifts. Whether you are a cook, cleaner or executive, when you are pursuing your purpose every day and can go home at peace, then you are successful. However, I think success also evolves over time so at different stages in life I have viewed success differently. When I was young, I think doing well in school was at the top of my mind; when I just started working, progressing in my career and learning was the most important thing. Now I am a wife and a mother so the career is still very important but having a happy, peaceful home is even more important to me than other achievements.

How can women leaders in different sectors (education, corporates, media, entertainment, fashion) act as positive role models for other women and girls?

I think most critically is by clearly defining our principles and living by them every day as much as possible. A lot of times, those who look up to any leaders are keen to see what they are actually doing and don’t just focus on what they say. For women, it is usually tougher as the pressure to compromise on our standards is sometimes intense but then the true test of our mettle is when we stand by these principles. Women leaders are also instrumental in mentoring and growing not only fellow women but also men. This is not just at the workplace but also in general society by standing

I think success is when you spend your day achieving your purpose and touching lives through your greatest gifts. CURRENTLY READING

up and voicing our opinions when it matters. We should then pursue this by playing to our strengths such as high emotional intelligence, intuitive connections that come more easily to us and applying our influential power (soft power) as opposed to waiting to attain positional power to facilitate the change we want to see.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

I define success as an expansion of one’s life in all its facets while remaining grounded in the values that sustain harmony for oneself and others. With that as the anchor, there is no limit to what one can achieve.

I define success as an expansion of one’s life in all its facets while remaining grounded in the values that sustain harmony for oneself and others. CURRENTLY READING

Do you feel that women are afraid of expressing their femininity at work and have to put on a ‘tough’ front? I don’t think so. Both men and women require feminine and masculine energies to achieve a balanced and harmonious life. Very simply, masculinity is about direction, execution and results, while femininity is about elegance and grace. A good leader needs a balance of both. Women need to be firm in setting direction and delivering results without having to put on a ‘tough’ front. They can do this from their feminine core.



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

Success is when you achieve a good return on investment. This applies to all spheres of life: emotionally, spiritually, socially and financially. You invest well and wisely and when you get a good return, you have succeeded! If you invest in your family and friends, then you will succeed in your relationships. If you invest wisely financially, you will succeed in that area as well. You may fail here and there, but success is also the ability to brush yourself off, learn from your mistakes and move on!

In Kenya, has the focus on empowering the girlchild worked to the detriment of the boychild?

This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many different ways to assess the issue. The amount of energy and resources that have gone into empowering the girlchild in Kenya, especially since the World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1985 has indeed borne amazing results. If it was up to me, though, and this is looking at it retrospectively, the campaign would have been “equal opportunity for all children”. Whereas there are many communities in Kenya whose social and cultural practices disenfranchise the girlchild, there are also many instances, especially in urban Kenya where the playing field has been fairly level. It is true that the girlchild is more vulnerable but we now also know that the boychild is not as safe and is vulnerable to all forms of abuse, just like the girlchild. The narrative on empowering the girlchild has placed such a high value on the girlchild that it has in some ways, moved the focus away from the boychild. On the other hand, I also believe that the boychild’s predicament cannot be blamed fully on the girlchild

Success is when you achieve a good return on investment. This applies to all spheres of life: emotionally, spiritually, socially and financially. empowerment. I feel that a portion of men in the Kenyan society have relegated their role as mentors to the boys of this country. I feel that many of them have failed to live up to their role and have, therefore, failed the boychild. Recently, a friend of mine - who is, coincidentally, pursuing a master’s degree in gender studies - observed that the streets are full of children returning to boarding schools in the company of their mothers. Her concern is, do these children have fathers or uncles or a male figure who takes responsibility for the home? Due to many factors such as low life expectancy for the male population, joblessness, alcoholism, general irresponsibility and other vices, women have had to step up and take on roles traditionally ascribed to men. This has had ripple effects. For example, a girl whose father was not responsible may have been encouraged, either by her mother or by her circumstances, to work hard and not “rely on a man”. Eventually when such girls are successful, it may appear as if they are beneficiaries of the “girlchild empowerment” campaign while in real sense this it is not the case. I would love to see what research (if any) has shown on this subject! CURRENTLY READING



Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success? When I accomplish a task or a set target by gracefully appreciating challenges I encounter and, with humility, seeking help where needed. I also see success as a result of commitment to my purpose. I do, therefore, endeavour to do my very best every day because God grants me the gift of life and good health each day that dawns. One more way I define success is “that which is achieved with utmost integrity”.

How can women position themselves to compete on an equal footing with their male peers at the executive level? I have worked in the corporate environment for about two decades now. There is no one single formula that I can lay down as the only way to succeed. I believe it depends on the organisation one is working with and the strategic and operational requirements. I have, however, a few nuggets I have used over the years to continue holding myself to account and to ensure I focus better and set myself up for success.

When I accomplish a task or a set target by gracefully appreciating challenges I encounter and, with humility, seeking help where needed.

Experience Having experience of the job is key as one can support their teams better. Experience makes any leader more grounded as she is able to rationalise decisions with more ease and objectively. Commitment Giving one’s role their level best is a key success aspect in my view. Phase appreciation As a woman, one must appreciate the phase she is in at any particular moment. Taking a break To avoid burnout, take leave, travel, visit long-time friends, take on a hobby, exercise, learn some new exciting skill and simply chill out. Prayer Prayer is paramount, as we are not in charge of our lives. God Almighty is. Taking moments of purposeful prayer of thanks giving or other special intentions is healthy.


Integrity Doing the right thing regardless of whether I am being seen or not is one treasured character and virtue. Growth Being in touch with the changing world comes in very handy for any leader. As women, we need to seize opportunities that help us grow professionally, socially and even at family fronts. Respect Someone said, “respect is earned”. I have used this principle ever since I heard it. It has remained a true statement for me. PROSE MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY - MARCH 2017


Photo: Kevin Gitonga Photography





How do you define success?

Success is to do that which brings me joy and a true sense of purpose. It is the privilege of love, friendship and support along life’s journey.

Success is to do that which brings me joy and a true sense of purpose. It is the privilege of love, friendship and support along life’s journey. CURRENTLY READING

What can be done to enhance gender diversity in the workplace?

Viewing gender diversity as a core business issue that has an impact on the return on investment is key. Decisions made with the benefit of diverse perspectives will tend to be more innovative, responsive and, therefore, profitable. For this to happen, it is critical for workplace leaders to identify gender diversity as an issue of strategic value and commit to clear outcomes for the business. This will give visibility and a place for the institutionalisation of policies designed to support gender diversity. Like any other strategic issue within a work place, the leadership is crucial in driving the narrative from a cliché to a clear, coherent, open and inclusive corporate culture supported by practices and processes that speak to the issue.



Photo: Osborne Macharia





A self-taught photographer and a student of Sociology and Psychology.

orn in Uganda, raised in Kenya, Sarah Waiswa describes herself as ‘an introvert who uses art as a medium of self-expression, specifically photography’. She is a student of Sociology and Psychology and which she believes play a large role in the work she creates. A self-taught photographer, Sarah says that she started dabbling in photography as a way to find peace and calm. Eventually, though, it ended up becoming her life. She adds that photography has helped her find herself and define her blackness, Africanness and her womanhood. That said, Sarah says that transitioning into photography as a full-time career was terrifying at first. Since she was 16 years old, she has had some sort of steady income- beginning with employment at her aunt’s shop, then working in corporates; pursuing photography meant that she was leaving this comfort behind. Sarah says that people were shocked- that she was leaving a good paying job and such a senior position; for her, though, it was necessary. That said, her family and friends have been very supportive. Sarah opines that everyone should pursue their passion as life is too

short to be lived pursuing anything else. She adds that it is better to try and fail than to never try and live the rest of your life wondering ‘what if?’ In regards to her new career, she states that the opportunities for photographers are countless. When queried as to her photography style, she says that she likes street photography, as it is where she started. She expounds that she is interested in capturing daily life and telling peoples’ stories. However, she adds that she is also interested in visually interpreting her perspective on social issues through photography. When tasked on why she describes her work as visual poetry, Sarah says that she wants people to look at her photos and be moved visually, in the same way poetry moves us with its words. With regard to her ‘Stranger in a Familiar Land’ project, she says that she has always advocated for human rights and is passionate about using her art to raise awareness. She says that, in today’s world, the media plays a large role in setting unrealistic standards of beauty, which in turn affect the way women and young girls see themselves. ‘Stranger in a Familiar Land’ was her response to articles she read about the persecution of people

Everyone should pursue their passion as life is too short to be lived pursuing anything else. with albinism and the atrocities they faced. Sarah believes that we live in a society that is not very accepting of different, and people who do not fit a certain mould may not feel accepted or have a sense of belonging. She adds that this does not only apply to albinism. Sarah states that, in Tanzania, for example, people with albinism are hunted for their body parts, under the guise that they contain ‘supernatural powers.’ She further states that their skin, because of the lack of melanin, is sensitive to the sun and that they face discrimination in different facets of their lives. To tackle this, Sarah says that governments can do a better job of educating people and communities about albinism so that people do not make their own assumptions that could result in discrimination and possible violence against these people.






After getting both my sociology and psychology degrees and working in a corporate position for a number of years, I decided to pursue photography. It was one of the Her photography has seen hardest/easiest her win a number of accolades. These include 4 awards in the Uganda decisions I ever Press Photo Awards in 2015 and the Discovery Award in Arles France, last year (2016). Such awards encourage made but it feels her to keep on shooting and to keep on telling stories and generating great to do what conversations through her work. It is her hope that her work will generate pertinent discussions and perhaps I am passionate bring about change in the long run. Sarah’s clients are many about. Creating and varied depending on the work. She says that she has worked with fashion brands, corporates and visual poetry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Her work can be found on telling stories in Instagram (https://www.instagram. com/lafrohemien/?hl=en) and on her website (http://www.sarahwaiswa. the most organic com/). She has also been part of varied exhibitions such as the and creative way Rencontres d'Arles in France, the Addis Foto Fest (AFF) in Ethiopia, the Joburg Art Fair in South Africa and the possible. Circle Art Gallery, Exhibition Frontiers of the Present, in Nairobi Kenya.

For a glimpse of her portfolio, visit her website at http://www.sarahwaiswa.com/ or her Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/lafrohemien/?hl=en (@lafrohemien)



Celebrating African Rural Women: Custodians of Seed, Food and Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Resilience

“In its documentation of the roles and achievements of rural African women, this report spotlights their remarkable relationship with seed - in economic and food security, in taking care of household nutrition, in spiritual practice, and in developing the resilience in crops for coping with our changing climate.” -Theo Sowa, Chief Executive Officer, African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) 64


n Africa, agriculture is the main economic activity and provides employment to most of her workforce. The type of agriculture practised is mostly small-scale in nature, with rural women providing the bulk of the required labour. However, these women are hardly recognised, with proprietary rights favouring men in such matters as access to credit facilities for land acquisition, land inheritance, dividend payments for delivered produce and so on. Cognisant of this, the Celebrating African Rural Women report lauds these faceless women who, through their unceasing toil, drives the continent forward. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in their heritage and customs of preserving diversity as custodians of seed thus ensuring sustainable agriculture. The report is divided into four chapters: Women as Custodians of Seed & Food; Undermining Women’s Role in Agriculture and the Community; Restoring Women’s Traditional Knowledge and Leadership for Resilience; and, Women’s Voices from the Fields.


Chapter 1, Women as Custodians of Seed & Food Diversity, recognises women as protectors of diversity in its varied forms and their integral role in ensuring food security for their communities. The chapter highlights the rich biological and cultural diversity in the continent- with Africa being the cradle of mankind- and how the two are intertwined. It also points out how, across millennia, the peoples of the continent have adapted in response to changes in their landscapes and the climate. This is manifest in their cultural expressions and traditions wherein dwells a deep understanding of their ecosystems with regards to intricate knowledge and ecological governance systems rooted in resilience. The rich biocultural diversity of the African continent has survived years of colonialism, globalisation and industrialisation, though the latter two are ever present threats. Concerning resilience in the face of climate change, biocultural seeds and food systems have ensured that communities thrive even in the face of droughts and famine. For instance, West Africans partake yam, a hardy crop, as their

staple food while sorghum – another hardy crop- has been a staple for some East African communities. By and large, it is the women who have acted as the custodians of seed diversity and food systems. Chapter 2, Undermining Women’s Role in Agriculture & the Community, reflects on the organised repression of rural women through the colonial, post-colonial and the current globalisation era that threatens the lives and livelihoods of small-scale farmers and by extension, the rural women. For instance, traditionally, women were at the centre of seed, food and ecological governance systems. However, the advent of colonialisation and its imposition of Victorian values regarded women as lesser beings, thus relegating them to the periphery of agriculture and governance systems. Colonialism too introduced individualised farm ownership whereas, previously, the land was owned collectively, thus everyone was accountable in the conservation of the land. In the post-colonial era, the perception that seed, food or ecological systems that are not

modern are ‘inferior’ has led to the further erosion of traditional biocultural diversity. And with modernity, the role of women as custodians of seed is greatly threatened as the system continues to favour men in terms of access to land. This, compounded by globalisation which advances large scale farming, mechanisation, GMOs and chemical inputs, in lieu of small-scale and sustainable farming, continues to put women at a disadvantage. This is compounded by other practices such as land grabbing, mining, the green revolution, seed harmonisation and climate change. Chapter 3, Restoring Women’s Traditional Knowledge & Leadership for Resilience, reveals the steps necessary to restore the rural women into their rightful place as custodians of seed, food and life in the face of climate change and industrial agriculture. Being the driving force with regards to smallscale farming, women are in a unique position to ensure food sovereignty for their communities. Central to this is agroecology - an ecologically and socially just approach to agriculture.

Unique to this approach is that the best of both- traditional and modern innovations- complement each other in creating a system of sustainable seed and food systems. However, globalisation and industrial farming is an omnipresent threat to agroecology. To anchor the smallscale farmers, and by extension, the women farmers, it is a must to revive such practices as customary governance systems, community dialogues and reviving and adapting traditional knowledge and systems. The net effect being to decolonise the mind, so to speak. Chapter 4, Women’s Voices from the Fields, presents an opportunity for women farmers to be heard. In their stories are the triumphs and challenges they have encountered as they revive traditional agroecology practises and ensure sustainable farming. In their conscience too is the recognition that they are the last generation having the traditional knowledge and wisdom of seed and food systems as passed down from their ancestors. No doubt, an onerous responsibility as they are tasked with ensuring that they pass this knowledge to the next generation amidst the biocultural erosion and upheavals occasioned by modernity. In the Conclusion, the report calls for the recognition of the central role women play in ensuring food security for their communities. It calls for a shift in policy and practice that enhances women’s participation in all facets of communal life such as decision making and food production among others. It also recommends a raft of measures to safeguard the contribution of women farmers in enhancing sustainable agriculture. The Celebrating African Rural Women report can be accessed at: http://africanbiodiversity.org/1046-2/






Ethiopian Orthodox followers celebrate Timket, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany, on January 19, 2015, in Addis Ababa

Photo: Dereje Belachew


veryone knew Jack. Smooth, suave, baby-faced and with the countenance of a Good Samaritan, Jack had a way with ladies that mesmerised us and made us want to grow up and be him. Jack was a big brother to our friend Dante and operated a barbershop where we thronged for our weekly school-induced clean shave. Cool by association, was the feeling that we got just by shaving at his barbershop. For some reason or other, Jack started attending the local branch of the nearby Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church- following upheavals in their country, Ethiopian immigrants had formed a community near where we lived and established their own church. Six months later, we heard that he had gone to live in Ethiopia. Perhaps to become a priest or to marry, it was hard to tell. Take one. Growing up, we listened to a lot of reggae on tape or over the radio. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Culture, Alpha Blondy- rootsy-roots, it was called. When we tired, we then listened to some love from Dennis Brown and Garnett Silk on many an idyllic weekend. We heard a lot of Ras Tafari, His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie, The Lion of Judah, and about Ethiopia as the promised land. Culture sang about Addis Ababa while a few songs mentioned a place called Shashamane in Ethiopia and which was equated to a second Eden. Enter The Church of The Twelve Tribes of Israel who worshipped in an open-air vacant lot. Seemingly, we were not the only ones who listened to deep reggae. And what a colourful lot they were! Flowing robes and turbans for both the brethren and the sisters- they addressed one another as ‘Brother Adonijah’ and ‘Sister Jacky’, with various adornments such as bangles and scarves coloured red, green and gold in the manner

of Rastafarians. Occasionally, they would have to stop their worship mid-service and head to the nearby police camp to bail one of their own who had been caught smoking something illegal. Take two. These then are the endearing images and association I have of Ethiopia; of course, spiced up with a dash of the rivalry between our track athletes and our coffees gleaned in later years. That being the case, I look forward to the impending trip, though I am a bit apprehensive. First things first, this will be my maiden trip to fly on a plane. As in a plane that will really take off from the ground and fly in the air. I have been on a plane before a couple of times. The first time was when I was in primary school and an uncle in the air-force took me to a base and where I played with the controls of a military plane as I imagined myself to be an ace fighter. The second time was when I did a short stint loading and unloading cargo from commercial planes in Eldoret. Otherwise, my movements have pretty much been restricted to buses, matatus, the family car and the occasional ferry ride down at the coast. Indeed, this upcoming trip is packed with many firsts. Besides being my first time to fly on a plane, it will be my first time to fly out of the country. Then again, I will be using my newly acquired passport for the first time. It really is a sort of baptism for me. The day for my travel finally arrives. I am booked for the 1.00 am flight, Ethiopian Airlines. My ticket says that I have to be at the airport two hours prior to my departure for checking in. Well, no need to take chances, so I am at the airport three hours prior to my departure. The taxi guy drops me at the airport and wishes me a safe journey as I promptly check in to my assigned terminal for processing.

Now, we are removing belts and shoes and wallets and phones and any other metals on our person and placing them on a plastic dish that will run on a conveyor belt and through a scanner. That in my hurry I wore a torn sock is neither here nor there; I could have been mightily embarrassed, but then again, everyone around me seems a bit traumatised by the whole experience- besides the small matter of trying to track one’s personal possessions and luggage while simultaneously putting on one’s shoes and buckling one’s belt. Then, we chill for a bit at the entrance of the airport lounge awaiting to have our tickets confirmed and our passports checked before we can enter the lounge and onwards to boarding our plane. As we chill, I admire the many duty free products (mostly chocolates with all kinds of exotic names) as I dock my phone at the mobile phone charging station opposite the reception; during which I nearly forget my phone when we are finally ushered into the lounge. Compared to Nairobi, Addis Ababa is much quieter and in a positive kind of way. We landed slightly over an hour ago at Bole International Airport and we are now heading to our hotel. Now, the driver of an upcoming bus is driving way too fast and I have a horrible feeling that he might just crash into us as he refuses to return to his side of the road. Our driver too is a stubborn fellow who also refuses to stick to his side of the road. At least, it feels that way every time we are on the road and it takes quite a bit of time to align to the fact that Ethiopians drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Which is to say that they drive on the right while we kept to the left, with their vehicles being Left-Hand-Drive (LHD). Anyway, we arrive at our hotel safe and sound. Once we check in, we congregate at the hotel’s restaurant for lunch.



Though Addis is as cool as Nairobi, it has that sort of camaraderie feel you get to experience at the Kenyan coast. Friendly people, a convivial atmosphere, a sense of community… For lunch, there is chicken, salad, coffee, tea; mostly what you will find at a standard menu at a standard hotel for international travellers. Well, I did not come all the way to Ethiopia to be an international traveller, so injera it is for me. Now, injera is an art. Made of teff, it has a fermented, sour taste to it and is as pliable as a pancake; perhaps a shade or two softer than a pancake but much larger in circumference. The injera is set on a large aluminium tray and then various other vegetable sauces and meat dishes are placed on its middle. The dish is eaten in decreasing radius; which is to say that you tear a chunk of the injera with your hand – from the periphery moving

Aerial view of Addis Ababa at night Photo: Dereje Belachew



to the centre- and use it to scoop the vegetable sauces and meat dishes placed in the middle. For salad, I partake three slices of a pineapple to keep peace between the injera and my stomach should they prove to be incompatible. For drinks, I settle on coffee. Whereas we are used to having our Kenyan beverages in mug-size containers, I feel a bit resentful that what I am presented for consumption is in medicine-like quantity; what I can only describe as a ‘shot’ of coffee. Next time I will stick to Mirinda or a coke- in all honesty, I am more of a quantity than a quality guy. Addis Ababa, we are told, means ‘new flower’ in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. We are being shown around the city, with our second stop being the African Union’s headquarters. An imposing building, the monolithic structure juts into the sky and dwarfs everything around it and is testament to the capability of Chinese

Though Addis is as cool as Nairobi, it has that sort of camaraderie feel you get to experience at the Kenyan coast.

Photo by Dereje Belachew

engineering. Before that, we have had a quick look at their light railway project that is part of the city commute. On the road, Chinese made trucks- ferrying various construction materials- compete for space with the ubiquitous white-andblue minibuses that informs the country’s public transport system. Traffic is not congested here as it is in Nairobi, which, we are told, has to do with the high cost of importing a vehicle into the country. Tomorrow, we visit Shashamane, which, to most of us in the travel group, is a sort of pilgrimage. I remind myself to bring back a few mementos to Kenya with which to gift my friends; more so, those who subscribe to the Rastafari creed. Meanwhile, I take in all experiences Addis has to offer as I slowly adjust my imagery of Ethiopia. Now, where do I start my search for Jack, if only to say hello‌



Celebrating African T H E D I A Rural R Y Women O F










id you know that January is named after the Latin word for door (ianua)? Figuratively, it is a door to the year as it heralds the start of a new year. Well, from the look of things, this door to the year took its sweet time to open as far as I am concerned. For starters, I have been striving to survive while running on broke mode, yet trying to be true to my resolutions for the year. On the plus side, though, I am yet to start evading the landlord, so things are not that bad. As yet. Thing is, it is an election year and one can never tell with elections in an African country. Firstly, in an election year, money becomes scarce. It is as though someone hoards a huge chunk of the cash supposed to circulate in the economy in a huge vault and throws away the key. Or as newspapers put it, foreign donors and investors into the country hold back their finances as they wait for the election madness to lapse before releasing their funds into the country. Then again, the shorts rains failed as we came to the end of 2016, so it is back to water rationing for Nairobi city and its environs. Really, it is self-sabotage, this no-rains, no-food, communities-and-their-livestock-die thing. For are we not the ones who encroached on our country’s water towers and cut down trees? In this, our leaders are culpable too as they dared not speak against our tampering with nature for political expediency. Now, we sink in the same boat as their boreholes are drying up too. Finally, I began running on the last week of 2016 and I am running still. Having it on good authority that resolutions for a new year are abandoned by the 17th of January, I can proudly say that I am on track. Which is not to say that it has been easy. I committed myself to be running three times in a week, evenings, 4-kilometres. My legs

ached and I felt utterly exhausted after every run, yet I kept true to purpose. Lucky that I had misplaced my smartwatch, else I’d have ended up alienating a good number of my friends with my daily posts on social media pertaining to my running achievements! Still, though, my body had slowly adjusted to the grind and I now look forward to my runs. Running has other benefits too besides working well for one’s cardio’s. For one, I have already made a couple of jogging buddies- those whose run time coincides with mine. There is nothing that brings people together as shared suffering. One of my running buddies happens to be a recently graduated doctor (at first, I heard that she was a ‘pedestrian’, so she had to clarify that she was a ‘paediatrician’- I hear with an accent). She is funny and has a bubbly personality to boot. Most importantly, she is single, as I am. When they say that God works in mysterious ways… I did promise myself that 2017 would be my year of publishing the greatest novel ever. Well, I have been busy with its writing. Scribbles here and scribbles there strewn across different notebooks as I converge them into one thing on my computer. I did end my year by locking myself in the house and writing copiously. I could have travelled, but no, thank you! I could have watched series back to back- oh, the allure of watching a rerun of House of Cards or Game of Thrones! Did I hang out with family and friends? As in spending time with the people who really got my back? Yes to family, no to friends. I was tempted to close out on family, then again, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day can be pretty lonely when you are all alone in your bachelor pad and are surrounded by the laughter of neighbours’ children and the deliciously haunting smell of freshly cooked chapatis. To preserve my sanity

and keep peace with my stomach, I did rush to my parents’ place to indulge in these delicacies. Meanwhile, the saga that is my greatest-ever-novel continues: Dama, the high priestess of Azalea and who led the other seers, saw right through the ruse. For one, this seer looked a little out of place. Whereas other seers effortlessly glided the many corridors, in semi-darkness, that informed the labyrinth of their shrine, this seer hesitated a bit; just a very slight hesitation that would have gone unnoticed by an ordinary person. However, years of operating in shadows had heightened the high priestess’ awareness of what went on around her. She beckoned one of her apprentices to approach her after which she instructed her to bring this other seemingly out-ofplace seer to her. The seer was brought to her and the high priestess spent some time looking her over. The seer looked the part alright but the high priestess could tell something was off; how the seer almost imperceptibly hedged the priestess’ questions, as though reading her answers from some invisible manual. Then again, this seer, though perfectly feminine in appearance, had a careless bearing to her as you would expect from a man rather than a proper lady and which was demanded of seers. Her face- there was something about her face that brought fleeting memories of another world... she couldn’t quite place the face, but it seemed strangely familiar in an uncanny sort of way. Having run out of questions for the seer, the high priestess had no recourse but to let her go and attend to her other chores. However, once the seer took her leave, the high priestess summoned one of her assistants- her master spy- and instructed her to discreetly trail this new seer. Something was not right, she could feel it in her bones…




The Tree of Secrets




f you go down Ichemele village, past Amakobe municipal, you will reach a place called Shimenza. Nothing out of the ordinary. The place is dry, rocky and with scattered huts made of mud and cow dung here and there. In the horizon, a little boy with a stick herds a small group of emaciated cattle. Apart from their occasional and muted mooing, the air hangs still. It’s past thirty years now when Shimenza was a lively village. Then, elders, in wheezing voices, pausing to catch their breath and pull their shukas tighter on their leathered and frail bodies, told stories. Stories of Shimenza’s heroes and heroines. They told stories of Shanta- the rain goddess and stories of Mathilikiwe, the mighty men who slew ten thousand men in battle. As the last embers died and hyenas hooted in the distance, they whispered tales of the tree of secrets. And Lela. Now, the elders are gone and their sons have migrated to the municipals to look for work. Once though, in Shimenza, Sinkore- the tree of secrets, held the village together. The tree, old as the Mbambala hills from where the sun rose each morning, was said to have been created by Nyala. Nyala being the god of the Amakobe tribe which the Shimenza belongs. Shimenza then was the heart of the Amakobe tribe and all important ceremonies were held here. Nyala, it was said, had created the land and the waters. He had created the cattle and the marabou. The hen and her cousin, the wildfowl. The cassava and the corn. Then, he had created man and appointed him caretaker of all his property. Thus, the Amakobe say of a wealthy man, “Nyala has made him to be a great caretaker.” Man prospered and his family grew big and thus was the whole world populated.

Now, Nyala had created man to be a peaceful being, but man had been corrupted and become vengeful. Maddened with lust and hate, brother fought brother, sons and fathers quarrelled with raised machetes and co-wives could not cook from the same pot. In the midst of this chaos was Amakobe. This Amakobe, a gentle soul if ever there was one. He reunited brothers and reconciled sons to their fathers. He brought laughter and peace back to families. However, some of Amakobe’s neighbours had grown used to the strife as they profited from it. They had gotten used to plundering their neighbours’ farms and taking their cattle. So they met and contrived to kill Amakobe in the dead of the night some three moons away during the Marako feast. The Marako feast being to venerate the ancestors long gone and beseech them to intercede on behalf of the community to Nyala as the ancestors were thought to dwell in his court. With the coming of the Marako feast, excitement rent the air. For men who had come of age would masquerade as hunters and heroes and try to seduce their female counterparts with their dancing and wrestling skills. On the other end, six elders- thought to be worthy of the honour- would be adorned in the mask of Shanta and divine her prophecies for the year. In this grouping was Amakobe. Now, during the Marako feast, the six elders would adorn themselves with amulets and make way to Shanta’s shrine. There, she would entrance them and give her prophecies and the promise of rain to be broadcast to the rest of the villagers. Shanta’s shrine being a day’s distance away of purposeful walking, the elders would start their journey three days to the Marako’s feast, spend a day and a night there and



then make their way back to the village. Custom dictated that each man would walk alone lest they be distracted from the task at hand as they discussed the village’s affairs. Amakobe would be ambushed during the return journey, his wicked neighbours agreed. The six elders made their way to the shrine and spent a day and a night there as required of them. However, as they slept, the spirit of Shanta descended on them as they dreamt. Shanta promised them rain and a wonder yet to come. She instructed five of them to return and partake of the Marako feast and divine to the people her prophecies. However, Amakobe was to remain in the shrine for another day and night. The elders did as instructed and left for Shimenza, leaving Amakobe behind. That night, as Amakobe slept, the spirit of Shanta descended upon him again. In his dream, he was shown the council of his wicked neighbours plotting to kill him. That would not be, though, as Shanta would preserve him. Instead, she gave him two seeds and instructed him to march westwards for three days. Once there, he was to plant one of the seeds, then return back to the village and plant the other seed just outside the village perimeter. Morning came and Amakobe found the two seeds that had been manifest in his dream on his laps. He marched westwards for three days and planted the first seed as instructed. No sooner had he done so than the ground rose before him, higher and higher, and the Mbambala hills- meaning the sun’s cradle- were formed. Amakobe then trekked back home to his village and planted the other seed as instructed. As soon as the seed touched the ground, the seed sprouted and grew into a huge, magnificent tree. Amakobe named it Sinkore- the tree of secrets. The


whole village was amazed and came to witness this wonder. It was then that Amakobe called the wicked men who had plotted to kill him and instructed them to sit under its shade. In terror, they confessed their diabolical plot and fervently pleaded for forgiveness. The norm would have been for the men to pay a hefty fine of 20 cattle and be banished from the village. However, Amakobe stated that those who confessed secrets at the shadow of the tree of secrets would be absolved of all their misdeeds, without recompense being required of them. Thus, it came to being that justice started being administered at the shadow of the tree of secrets. With time, though, the sacredness of the tree of secrets as a tool to administer justice was abandoned. For as the Amakobe increased, so too did they come into contact with the traditions and customs of their neighbours. Gradually, some of these traditions and customs were assimilated into Amakobe’s culture. One of these was kerekete- the ‘scratching’ of a girl who had come of age. Said wakereketao- elderly women who were tasked with the whole business of kerekete- this custom of transitioning the girls into submissive and dutiful wives was borrowed from the ancestors. Somehow, they subverted the tree of secrets to be their shrine for this rite of passage done after every four full seasons. Now, when the second harvest of corn was in the granaries and the village was well fed, there followed a lull in the village’s activities. For then, the days would be long and the nights short, with the sun dancing on the villagers’ faces all the while; with the stifling heat barely subdued by the harmattan winds that blew in a cool breeze to afford the villagers temporary reprieve.


The wakereketao- hair turned woolly white in wisdom- decreed that the kerekete rite of passage would be held every four seasons. Then, the girls who had ripened into womanhood and belonging to a age-set (named after occurrences in the community such as flooding, droughts, wars and so on) would undergo the rite. These wakereketao were venerated elders held in high regards in the community such that, at times, they would be allowed to sit in the council of their male counterparts on discussions having a particular bearing to the community’s welfare. Being mothers many times over, they lived in their own huts away from their husbands who would have taken younger wives in turn. Unencumbered of the desires of the flesh, the wakereketao were thus assumed to possess unquestionable wisdom and their word was regarded as law. When the kerekete season came, the girls undergoing the transition into womanhood would be herded into one homestead, usually the home of the senior most elder, with their male counterparts who had transitioned into manhood two seasons earlier standing guard on the periphery. These two would share the same age-set name, though with the name indicative of gender to differentiate them. For example, the men’s age-set, now having served as warriors for two seasons, would be the Wanyala ageset while the women would take the Nanyala age-set. In another season or two, the Wanyala age-set would take their first wives from the corresponding Nanyala age-set. Once herded into the particular homestead, the girls would be taught how to be proper womenhow to cook, how to carry themselves,

how to care for the children and their husbands (with the Amakobe having a saying that a husband was a wife’s first child) and so on. Then, the second stage of the kerekete rite of passage would commence and during which the girls would be ‘scratched’ to tame them into dutiful and faithful wives. Early in the morning on the day of the ‘scratching’, the girls would be taken to a nearby stream to bathe; with the cold water dulling the pain of the ‘scratching’. As with the menfolk, those who cried or exhibited other signs of cowardice would be ridiculed by the rest of their peers as being unworthy of respect as women to their husbands. Once ‘scratched’, they would remain at the isolated compound for another moon during which they would be fed generously as they convalesced. In some seasons, all would be well while in others, one or two girls would die, perhaps bleeding to death or due to an infection that would not heal. Which said occurrence would be attributed to Nyala’s wishes or malevolent spirits and the requisite sacrifices or cleansing ceremonies conducted. Lela was a most unusual child. Whereas her contemporaries took three seasons to walk and talk properly, she only took a full season and five moons. By the fifth season, she had mastered all the sayings of her community with all their nuances and convolutions and could narrate her family’s lineage back to 19 generations. Now, Shimenza’s neighbours, if they could be called that, included the Amaterewalkers of the dark- for they came

at night to plunder the Amakobe’s cattle. These Amatere, fierce, proud and sinewy warriors. Ebony in hue, they were a shade or two darker than the Amakobe who were chocolate in complexion. They were taller than the Amakobe with a lean torso, long limbs and comely faces; with their women being graceful in manner- with a shade of haughtiness- and princely in bearing. In Shimenza it was whispered-

newly married, had been out fetching water in the local stream when she had stumbled upon a raider’s party from the Amatere community driving away stolen cattle and they had their way with her. For two days she had been missing and when a search party finally stumbled on her on the eve of the second day, she was bedraggled and there was terror in her eyes. For a whole market week, she would neither speak nor eat and it was with much persuasion that she was coaxed to eat for her sake and her husband’s sake. Still, she never spoke once of what had transpired on that fateful day. Right from birth, you could tell Lela was different. Whereas other Amakobe children would be goaded into suckling, she suckled with such ferocity as only a starving child could. Then her gaze had such an intensity that grown men had to look aside whenever their eyes locked. Which said peculiarity carried on into her childhood and adult life though her parents tried to wean her off it. Strong headed, Lela usually got her way. Her mother was no match for her and you could see her father had a weak spot for her. Quick to anger and even quicker with her fists, the elders jokingly said that she should be allowed to join the community’s warriors when she came of age. This was at the eighth time when they had been called to arbitrate a dispute between her parents and those of another boy who had dared confront her. With time, when she was properly a woman, she would settle down, was the tacit agreement. It would be a difficult year, the

It would be a difficult year, the whole of Amakobe sorrowed. Not that there had been famine nor drought; it had been a good year- the rains were aplenty and the crops had flourished. Rather, Shanta’s seers had been unable to divine the locust invasion that came from the north as the harvesting season neared. though such whispers were frowned upon as unbecoming and likely to invite strife in a family- that Lela was sired by an Amatere warrior. Her mother,



whole of Amakobe sorrowed. Not that there had been famine nor drought; it had been a good year- the rains were aplenty and the crops had flourished. Rather, Shanta’s seers had been unable to divine the locust invasion that came from the north as the harvesting season neared. They came hovering as green clouds and devoured everything in sight as wives took time to pick them off pots and pans and children strived to chase them away by clashing pots together to make a mighty din. Even the huge smoke stacks erected from dry shrubs, leaves and wet logs were no match for the ravenous insects. Then, it was discovered that the locusts made delicious snacks when roasted- a chance discovery by an adventurous child who had gobbled a few of the insects that had fallen into the hearth. Still, with all the crops in the fields devoured, the Amakobe girded themselves for a difficult season ahead. Now, the wise thing would have been for the wakereketao to postpone the kerekete rite of passagethe signs certainly were ominous. They didn’t. Were the Mbambala hills to drown or the Sinkore tree to split, the rite would go on; they were vehement. The male elders, though opposed to this declaration, were overruled. In their counsel, they had deemed it fit to have the rite postponed to the next season when, hopefully, the community’s fortunes would be much improved. So it was that Lela and her agemates were herded into the compound of the senior most elder to undergo the rite. That night there was a mighty storm, accompanied by brutal winds, that threatened to blow away entire homesteads. The storm started just slightly past dusk and ceased abruptly as dawn approached. And what havoc it did cause! Granaries swept away, missing livestock, whole crops flattened… what the locusts


had spared, the storm did not. Still, the wakereketao declared that the kerekete rite of passage would proceed as planned, though they did postpone the ceremony for a day. As families recounted their losses and salvaged a few possessions still in sight, the wakereketao- now gathered in the compound of the senior most elder, discovered that Lela was missing. A few of the warriors that stood guard over them were summoned, though they reported that they hadn’t seen her. Consequently, a search party was instituted and the whole of the village and neighbouring fields searched to no avail. This forced the kerekete ceremony to be postponed indefinitely until she was found. A day passed, then two… still, Lela was not to be found. On the fifth day, Lela did return to Shimenza village. She returned to the village as dawn was breaking, and what a dramatic entry she made. First, the village’s relative tranquillity was broken by a prolonged, high-pitched and ghostly scream. Next was heard a tumultuous sound as though a thousand wings had taken to flight at once. Tense, the villagers stood outside their house murmuring as to what could be going on. It was then that Lela made her entrance. Regal and splendid in a lion’s skin, with a matching mane of the same kind accoutring her head as a bearskin, she brandished a spear in her right hand and a shield, made of the hide of a hippo, on her left. The villagers gawked at her, stupefied. Recovering their senses, they recalled the forgotten tales of the prophecy. That a warrior, a stranger, yet familiar, would be sent to right an injustice. That the warrior's coming would be heralded by a series of misfortunes. You could sense the doubts too.


Could she be the promised warrior? In their collective imagination, it had always been a given that the promised warrior would be a man. Lela marched past her mother, her father and her siblings as though they were strangers to her. She marched onwards in the direction of the senior most elder's homestead and who acted as the gatekeeper for the wakereketao. When she reached the compound where she had previously been herded together with her agemates, she circled it three times. She then proceeded in the direction of Sinkore- the tree of secrets. By now, the whole village was tracing her every step. Her agemates too, with even the wakereketao hobbling after her. When she reached the grove where the Sinkore grew, she paused. The whole village paused too in trepidation, sensing a wonderment about to occur. Lela then let out a violent scream- a scream belonging to a thousand voices crying out in anguishand which sent a shiver among the gathered villagers. Then she banged the hilt of her spear against her shield severally and then let her spear free in the direction of the Sinkore tree. As the spear made contact with the tree, lighting struck the tree and it split twice and crashed with a mighty sound. Exhausted, Lela fell on the ground in a swoon as her mother rushed to snuggle her. As the rest of the villagers stood still, awestruck, the significance of what they had witnessed dawned on them. This season, there would be no kerekete ceremony. In fact, there would be no kerekete ceremony. Ever. Sinkore- the tree of secretshad spoken.

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Profile for Epsilon Publishers

Prose Magazine February - March 2017  

Prose is a bi-monthly publication of Epsilon Publishers. The magazine delves into industry trends and insights of publishing.

Prose Magazine February - March 2017  

Prose is a bi-monthly publication of Epsilon Publishers. The magazine delves into industry trends and insights of publishing.


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